Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A String of Awkward Ads

Anyone see the TV ad for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” that has a tie-in with AFLAC insurance?

Not exactly a Happy Meal promotion, is it?

Kids will soon be asking their parents if they can get that insurance - you know, the one with the duck? They’ll throw a tantrum when Dad says he’s a State Farm kind of guy…

Monday, November 29, 2004

Well, it is almost December...

Got some light snowfall here in Iowa overnight. According to the local weather dudes, we could get as much as an inch if the temperatures stay cold enough. But it will probably turn to rain later this after noon.

Pardon the blurry photo. I'm not very good with my digital spy camera. Plus the photo was taken from behind a window screen, so that might've messed with the image a bit. But I think all the white in the picture might give you an idea of the snowfall.

Bah, humbug!
On a perhaps somewhat related note, one of the few local radio stations I can tolerate has switched to all-Christmas music, all the time. This temporary format change probably took place after Thanksgiving. I forgot the same thing happened last year. I tried to erase it from my memory.

This stinks. For the next month, the only radio I'll be listening to is NPR and sports talk. But it could be worse. My sister told me radio stations in Charleston, SC started playing 24-hour Christmas music right after Halloween. And they don't even get snow down there. I'd jump into the Ashley River off a tall bridge, man.

Years of working retail probably destroyed my tolerance for Christmas music. I can take it for one week, leading up to Christmas. And even then, there are only a handful of songs I want to hear. 'Jingle Bell Rock,' 'Do They Know It's Christmas,' and Bruce Springsteen's live version of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town.'

Friday, November 26, 2004

Highlights from home

Has it been a week already? Back to Iowa City and three more weeks of fall semester. What'll be the best part of the drive? Listening to the rest of David Cross's new comedy CD, 'It's Not Funny,' on the way home.

• I missed listening to my parents converse with each other from different parts of the house. Dad sits at the former dining room table, which he turned into his desk after retiring, and talks to Mom, who's downstairs watching TV.




• My dentist told me I need to floss more. He gave me the news with a spoonful of vinegar by pointing out that I'm at an age (between 30 and 40) where gum disease really begins to set in.

• 'Sideways' really is as good a movie as the critics have been saying. It stays true to its characters and never goes for a cheap laugh. I love Alexander Payne's films. He hasn't made a bad one yet. And no one plays a schlub better than Paul Giamatti. Any independent filmmaker or short story writer should look at the ending to this film and aspire to the same. It hit just the right note.

• Everyone's having kids and/or getting married. My friend Eric and his wife Mary Beth had their first child two weeks ago. Didn't get a chance to see her yet. But my childhood buddy Mike and his wife Lori had their third child on Monday. I saw him today.

Lil' Nate was like a loaf of bread in my arm. Wow. Some butter and I could've eaten him. No, c'mon - I'm kidding. I wouldn't eat a kid. Especially on the day after Thanksgiving, when I'm still burping my dinner.

Best part of holding Mike's new baby? I handed him off to his mother mere minutes before he unloaded in his diaper. How can such a little thing leave such a big... never mind.

And another childhood buddy, Chris, is heading off to Vegas next week to get married. Are all the kids and weddings making me reconsider my life? You bet. I've mapped out all the vasectomy clinics between Ann Arbor and Iowa City. Mike's kids are amazingly cute and smart (especially in comparison to other, older kids I know), but I'm glad they're his kids.

• My Detroit Lions showed a national TV audience just how terrible they are, losing 41-9 to the Indianapolis Colts. I like to think it's to make up for the fight between the Pistons and Pacers last Friday. Let the healing begin.

• Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of fun when you have shoe-sole-low expectations. I thought getting together with my dysfunctional extended family would be nightmarish. But most people seemed happy and ready to embrace a new phase of their lives. Unfortunately, others are stuck on the same treadmill of mediocrity and meaninglessness. Wine helps you listen to people who talk a lot but aren't actually saying anything.

See ya, Ann Arbor! Back in three weeks for Christmas vacation. Have some snow for me when I get back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

But I really wanted fries with that

This is the Virgin Mary? Really? In a @#$%-ING GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH??

But hey, the lady holding onto this sandwich for 10 years got $28,000 for it on eBay, so who's the sucker?

That looks more like Marlene Dietrich to me. It's a good thing I wasn't with Diana Duyser when she ordered that sandwich. Not too many unfinished sandwiches sit around when I'm at the table.

How did the thing never get moldy? Brendan I. Koerner, who's scratched so many of my intellectual itches, explains all in his outstanding Explainer column for Slate.

You know, I've always thought my aunt's stuffing was heavenly. I'll be looking for Moses in every spoonful tomorrow.

Heartbreak a Stranger

It looked like a serendipitous situation. I was coming home to Ann Arbor on Friday, and Bob Mould, one of my favorite musicians, was playing at the legendary Blind Pig. The man is – and using this term makes me wince – a rock god to me. My roommate at Michigan State introduced me to Husker Du, and it was a musical awakening. My tastes changed forever after that. Later, I found Mould’s solo stuff, which was moodier, but beautifully introspective. The melancholy guitar riff on “Heartbreak a Stranger” can stop me in my tracks. And I “discovered” Mould’s next band, Sugar, at Tower Records (Ann Arbor location, R.I.P.) when their CD “Copper Blue” was played in the store. The blistering guitars from “Helpless” yanked me over to the information desk to ask who was playing. They were probably my favorite band of the 90s. I saw them in concert three times, and when Mould visited Detroit on his own between Sugar albums (at least twice), I went to those shows too.

So when I (inadvertently) found out about the November 19 concert on the internet, I was thrilled. What a beautiful coincidence! After dinner with my parents, I’d go downtown and wait in line. Going to the show was a no-brainer!

Then I remembered I don’t like Bob Mould’s new musical direction. He put down the guitars for his last CD, “Modulate,” and embraced electronica instead. I remember my face being frozen in disbelief while I drove home from the music store. I even took the CD out of the player to make sure a wrong one hadn’t accidentally been packaged in the jewel box. Synthesizers? Drum tracks? Loops? Beats? What the @#$%? Where were the guitars? Where was the ROCK from Mould that I had blasted in the car for years? The only thing this stuff made me want to do in my car is drive it off a bridge.

I thought I should give the CD another chance and be more loyal and supportive to an artist whose music I’d loved. But I never listened to it again. (I’m not even sure I own “Modulate” anymore; my collection’s back in Iowa City.) In the two years since, I hoped that Mould would return to the guitar-driven rock I loved for his next album, but he apparently hasn’t.

In an interview with the Ann Arbor News, Mould said he’d continue to play with synthesizers, samplers, and vocoders. He did throw a bone to those perplexed by this new sound, however. “Now that I’ve been working in that style for a couple of years,” he said, “and being more educated in the history of electronic music, I feel more confident in integrating that with guitar music.”

So I opted not to attend the show. And I feel a tinge of regret about that. The Blind Pig is a great venue for live music. I would’ve loved to see the “old” Bob Mould play there. Part of me wishes I wanted to see the new version, but electronica feels so soulless to me. If I met Mould, I’m sure he’d ask me to give his new stuff a chance. An artist stretching him or herself is something that should be commended by fans and critics, even if it runs outside the artist’s previous body of work. But ultimately, we like what we like, right? I have no idea whether I’ll buy his next CD, “Body of Song," but I'll always be glad Bob Mould's making music.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Have you seen this man?

The man who ignited Friday's brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills has been identified by Oakland County prosecutors. Dude has a sterling record, too: three DUI convictions, prison time for writing bad checks and carrying a concealed weapon, escaped prison, and has also been previously charged with assault. Nice. And if that was beer in the cup he tossed at Ron Artest, it's a violation of his current probation.

I miss Donkey Kong

I love video games. I love them so much I refuse to play them. I know if I were to get a Playstation 2 or X-Box and buy a copy of the latest John Madden football game, you could turn out the light, turn off the phone, and come back to see me in a month. I’d never get anything done, flunk out of school, and probably develop tendonitis in my wrists from pushing those buttons with my thumbs.

So I definitely see the appeal. And the media is coming around, finally noticing the huge sales games like “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” and “Halo 2” generate. (Of course, that’s also served up with a spoonful of “Oh my God, look how violent these games are! The children!”) Video games are a fascinating form of entertainment that is growing and evolving every week.

But maybe video games based on “The Passion of the Christ” and the JFK assassination is taking things a bit too far. At the risk of climbing on a moral high horse…

There’s an article in the Washington Post today about a game called “JFK Reloaded,” in which players – for an entry fee of $10 – can attempt to re-enact Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting of John F. Kennedy. Whoever re-creates creating the exact shot, angle, timing, etc. of the assassination will win a grand prize of $100,000.

I’m out. I could never even save the princess in “Super Mario Bros.”

But even better is a game based on Mel Gibson’s biblical whip-fest. I discovered this one via Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Unfortunately, there's no mention of what the game will actually entail. I have a feeling the game won’t allow you to flay Jesus with whips and tear his flesh with nails and broken glass, as seen in Gibson’s film. But those video game guys are clever. Who knows what they'll come up with next?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Young men, you're in trouble

The NBA handed down some major suspensions in response to Friday night's brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.

Ron Artest received the harshest penalty, getting suspended for the rest of the 2004-05 season - a total of 72 games, at a cost of $5 million in salary. Even though he arguably ignited the incident by charging into the stands, I have to think Artest's track record of dangerous behavior ultimately factored into this decision. This is a seriously troubled man who needs some time to fix himself. I've probably seen this brawl replayed 20 times on TV now, and besides the violence, what's most disturbing about Artest is the relatively calm look on his face as he's throwing punches and running around. There's no anger in his expression. Something just isn't clicking in his head.

Stephen Jackson, whom Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post argues should've received a larger suspension because he ran into the stands to fight fans without provocation, is out for 30 games and almost $2 million. And Jermaine O'Neal, probably Indiana's best player, will miss 25 games and $4.5 million worth of paychecks.

Any aspirations the Indiana Pacers had toward dethroning the Detroit Pistons as NBA Champions can now officially be kissed goodbye. And all because Ron Artest couldn't control himself when he needed to. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star is refreshingly objective about the whole matter.

Next, I'm sure the Oakland County prosecutor will be putting in his two cents, pressing charges against all those fans full of liquid courage on Friday night. I'm sure he'll go after the players too.

Did the Pistons get off lightly? Ben Wallace, who started the on-court portion of the fracas, was suspended for 6 games. Considering he wasn't in the stands punching fans, that seems appropriate (though I'm hardly objective, as a Pistons fan). An interesting question is whether the Pistons organization should be somehow penalized since its inadequate security and to-the-final-buzzer beer sales contributed to the situation. I'm not sure what can be done, though. Cutting beer sales earlier in the evening is a no-brainer. What about ticket sales? Can the NBA make the Pistons play in front of an empty arena for one or two games? Or take away one or two home games? I doubt that'll happen.

This ain't over yet...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Panic in Detroit

I thought it would be just a quiet night back home in Michigan. The parents went to bed, and I sank into my dad’s armchair to watch the end of the Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game on ESPN. And that’s when everything went crazy on TV.

Professional basketball players running into the stands (which were virtually deserted because Detroit was getting their asses kicked) and punching fans. Beers getting tossed at the players from all directions. Fights breaking out on the court and in the courtside seats. More players punching fans (who have made their way onto the court), coaches holding their players back, players holding their teammates back, fans tangled up with each other while throwing punches, slaps, and elbows.

It was a near-riot situation at the Palace of Auburn Hills – easily the ugliest outbreak of violence I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. (No, I don’t watch European soccer.) And I’m horrified that it happened in Detroit. I can’t wait for the rest of the country to jump on the pile and throw the usual “Detroit is a hellhole full of hooligans” garbage.

You know what? Auburn Hills is 35 miles from Detroit. The fans involved in the fighting - the ones who were hurling beers at the players - were affluent, suburban white guys. This wasn’t some “urban” riot.

It started with Detroit’s Ben Wallace overreacting to a hard foul by Indiana’s Ron Artest, and shoving him in the neck. Apparently, there was a lot of rough play throughout the game, and it could be argued that in a game where the outcome was likely decided, a hard foul (with a little shove, seen on slow-motion replays) wasn’t necessary. So Wallace was sticking up for himself and playing tough guy. No idea what may have been said on the court, but Big Ben seems to have started the fight.

But Artest is hardly a choir boy. He has a healthy history of crazed, irrational behavior in his NBA career. (Just last week, his team suspended him because he asked to leave the team so he could promote a rap album.) The man has anger management problems. And after he got a beer thrown at him, Artest RAN INTO THE STANDS to go after the asshole who threw it. (TV reports say he likely punched the wrong guy, too.) That’s when things blew up.

It’s hard to blame Artest for wanting to attack the guy, but he’s a professional athlete. He cannot go after fans, no matter what they say or do. Let security escort the guy out of the building, press charges against him, etc. (Security was seemingly nowhere to be seen during this entire brawl, by the way. But those poor guys were probably lost in the melee.) There will be fines, suspensions, arrests, and most definitely lawsuits coming from all of this. It’s a total mess and a huge embarrassment.

Basketball games used to have cages around them, you know…

Friday, November 19, 2004

Emptying the jar -- 11/19

Don’t know much about business

So here’s a thought: How the hell does K-Mart buy Sears? I’m sure the merger is good business (big corporations get bigger through acquisitions) and I don’t even know anything about business, which I’m about to demonstrate. How does a company that filed for bankruptcy acquire a national retail chain (which I thought was much bigger)?

Apparently, this is all meant to take Wal-Mart down a peg, which would be fine with me. If I wanted morality dictated to me, I’d go to church.

Will the right-wing media eat itself?

This article by Paul Farhi in Wednesday’s Washington Post might keep me warm throughout the winter. Now that George Bush has won re-election and Republicans have majority control of the House and Senate, what will right-wing talk show hosts (Hannity, Limbaugh, etc.) bluster about? They can’t play the underdog card anymore; their guys have won. And since their guys won, where will future anger be directed?

I’m sure they’ll think of something (Hillary Clinton, the “liberal media”), but how about taking on themselves? Conservatives might end up going after other conservatives who aren’t right-wing enough. They could all beat each other up in the process!

So who’s the underdog now? Who really has something to be pissed off about now?

Off to Michigan

The University of Iowa gives us the whole week off for Thanksgiving, which is the best idea EVER! So I’m off to Ann Arbor to eat at all the places I’ve been missing and see all the cool movies that don’t make it to Iowa City. And I can’t wait to listen to the new Interpol, PJ Harvey, and Wilco CDs in their entirety during that 450-mile drive east.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tigers on the prowl

I apologize for the trite title, but it seems to fit so well. Baseball season just ended, but it's exciting to see my Detroit Tigers not waste any time in signing top-tier free agents to bolster their team and give themselves a chance to win. They aggressively acquired pitcher Troy Percival, an outstanding reliever who liked Detroit so much he cancelled his visits to three other teams, including the Cubs and Indians (both of whom had better records in 2004 and might've offered more money). Percival is older (35) but experience has brought him skill to go along with his athletic ability, and he was among the top five relievers in the American League last season with the Anaheim Angels.

The Tigers' new approach started last season with the inexplicable signings of catcher Pudge Rodriguez and pitcher Ugueth Urbina, two players who won the World Series in 2003 with the Florida Marlins and were arguably among the best at their respective positions. This served notice - not only to Detroit but the other teams in Major League Baseball - that the team's previous penny-pinching ways were over.

Now the Tigers have possibly one of the best bullpens in baseball, with two top-tier pitchers who can shut down the other team at the end of a game. (Though Urbina will probably be traded now that he won't be "the man" in the 9th inning.) And Percival might persuade his buddy and former teammate, third baseman Troy Glaus - who led the American League in home runs in 2000 - to sign with the Tigers, as well.

No, Detroit probably won't win the World Series in 2005. But they could make the playoffs. And considering they finished 2003 with a historically bad record (119 losses!), this is an exciting turnaround.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Desperately seeking controversy

Now that the election is over, and the red state vs. blue state feud over so-called 'moral values' has been established, are people so desperate to pick a fight that they're taking a trivial issue like the 'Monday Night Football' opening and making much too big a deal of it?

So here's the story: ABC ran a pre-taped segment which depicted Nicollette Sheridan's slutty character from "Desperate Housewives" wearing nothing but a towel and seducing Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens in a locker room before a football game. She drops the towel (exposing - cover your eyes - her naked back!), Owens says 'Hell yeah" (or something along those lines) and decides to skip the game, she jumps into his arms, and... well, I assume a touchdown was scored somewhere.

Kind of clever, kind of funny, especially for a program that emphasizes entertainment and wants to attract more than the typical football fan. But was it too bawdy for a prime-time sports broadcast? Apparently, some prudes think so and flooded ABC with letters, e-mails, and phone calls to express their displeasure. But this just isn't being discussed on ESPN and sports-talk radio now; the regular media is picking this up too.

The most ridiculous quote? Michael Powell, the president of FCC, was interviewed on CNBC and wondered if "Walt Disney would be proud" of this. (ABC is part of the Disney company, if you didn't know.)

The funniest thing about all this? This supposedly controversial segment - so "inappropriate," so "disgraceful" - is being replayed ENDLESSLY all over TV (network morning shows, cable talk shows) right now. So for all those crying that their children shouldn't have seen it, they've probably seen it again on another channel - and again.

The next funniest thing? The National Football League - the same NFL that signs off on numerous beer (with those TWINS!) and boner drug ads flooding its telecasts - is righteously indignant with ABC for allowing another Janet Jackson-esque incident to pollute its product. Never mind that the NFL seems fine with the same TV coverage ogling the skimpily clad cheerleaders on the sidelines before every other commercial break.

Meanwhile, ABC is apologetic - at least in public. Privately, I imagine it's pretty damn happy with all the attention. Ratings for "Monday Night Football" and "Desperate Housewives" will surely be helped.

One more thing, and this is a much uglier debate than whether or not we’re too Puritan as a society these days: On his national ESPN Radio show, Colin Cowherd suggested that there’s a racist undertone to much of this uproar. A white woman jumping into a black man’s arms on TV might’ve ruffled some unenlightened feathers. I don’t know if I completely agree with that, but Cowherd insists many of the e-mails he received on the subject prove otherwise. I’ll take his word for it, but I hope he’s wrong. I’d much rather make fun of prudes than shake my head at racists.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Something (sort of) New

As a kid, my uncle Mike gave me several of his Beatles LPs. Unfortunately, they were all scratched up (which is probably why I got them), but I always had affection for those albums - 'Meet the Beatles, "Something New," and "Beatles '65' - and wanted to buy them on CD. I always wondered why I could never find them in stores. But now I know I wasn't a moron - they weren't available on CD in the United States!

That is, until now. EMI and Apple (the Beatles' company, not the computer manufacturer) have released a set called 'The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1,' which includes the three albums I nostalgically yearned for. Sweet news - except I have to watch my pennies for the rest of the year.

Hey, isn't Christmas coming up...?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Nearing the end

© 2004 by NEA, Inc.

This is how I've felt through most of the Fall term. Now that it's nearing the close (and I'm on the verge of my final semester at Iowa), I wonder if I've been doing enough. But good chats with advisors and instructors over the past week have lessened my angst. That light at the end of the tunnel might not be an oncoming train.

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Some schools play football games for trophies like Paul Bunyan’s axe, little brown jugs, spittoons, or buckets. Iowa and Minnesota play for a pig.

That is “Floyd of Rosedale.” It represents a bet made back in 1935 between the governors of Iowa and Minnesota. (See what you have time to do when you don’t have to worry about issues like gay marriage?) That is a trophy, my friends. And grown men are happy to win it.

Iowa held onto Floyd yesterday, by the way, beating Minnesota, 29-27.
College football – ain’t nothin’ like it. Here’s a ridiculously comprehensive site that lists the many rivalries in the sport and the trophies that are at stake.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Football - Sorrow & Joy

From a Roar To a Whimper

Last Sunday, my beloved Detroit Lions lost to the Washington Redskins, 17-10, and I failed to be a man and answer for that to my friend in Maryland, who's a big 'Skins fan. All season long, I'd been talking trash, taking joy in the fact that my Lions were playing well while her Redskins were struggling. A win for Detroit seemed assured, which I made clear. Unfortunately, the Lions played one of their worst games of this season, and after a surprising start have now fallen back to their typical inept play. One would think I'd learn after all these years.

So since I didn't send an e-mail to take my medicine, Stephanie, I'll do it here on my blog. My Lions stink. The Redskins are their daddy. I will now go back under my rock and sulk.

Nothing Like the First Time

And I haven't written about my first University of Iowa football game last week vs. Purdue. The weather was great: sunny and 70 degrees. Mother Nature wanted me to have a good time. The game didn't disappoint either. Purdue made it close at the end, but Iowa generally dominated the game and won 23-21. The only thing I missed out on was eating one of the famous "Big Ass Turkey Legs." (The sign on the food stand actually says that.) They looked good, but I didn't want to carry around a giant drumstick of meat. Maybe some other time, when I can share one...

Did I take this photo? Yes, I ran onto the field, snapped this and ran off, quick as a flash. Coach Kirk Ferentz wants to sign me up as a running back for next season. No, all the photos I took with my spy-sized digital camera didn't turn out very well. I'm a terrible photographer, especially with a camera so small that it's affected by my slightest movement. All you could tell from my photos was that I was outside and that someone with a giant head was sitting in front of me. Too bad, because I would've loved a record of the experience. (I really wanted a picture of "Big Ass Turkey Legs," too.)

My sister will hate hearing this, but the Iowa fans are a lot louder and much more enthusiastic than the Michigan fans. Some say the design of Michigan stadium, with a bowl that stretches back farther, lets more noise escape. Maybe that's true, but I do think Michigan fans are quieter. They sit back and expect their team to win. Iowa fans feel like they can influence the game with their cheering. It makes a big difference.

I've become an old man when it comes to attending football games. (Baseball games are different to me. Someday I'll write about why that is.) "Oy, it's too crowded and uncomfortable. I hate being wedged in between people - what if I have to go to the bathroom? And I can see the game much better at home on TV." But a college football game has a lot of atmosphere that can only be appreciated in person. The variety of fans (the old-timers, the students, the townies), the marching band playing fight songs (I still have to work on learning Iowa's) and rallies, school colors, and raucous enthusiasm - ain't nothin' like it.

One more thing about Iowa football: I know this will sound goofy, but two years ago, I visited Minneapolis, thinking I'd move there. It was difficult to find a place to stay because the hotel rooms were all taken by Iowa fans, in town to see the Hawkeyes play Minnesota. But once I did find a room (and desperately paid a ridiculous amount for a room bigger than my current apartment), I met some Iowa fans in the lobby and was impressed by how nice they were. And I was impressed that so many of these people had made the five-hour trip to cheer on their school. I missed being in an environment like that.

(After Iowa won the game, by the way, those fans ran onto the field - at the other team's stadium - to celebrate winning a share of the Big Ten conference title. Those crazy kids tore down one of the goalposts! I would imagine Minnesota is still sore about that.)

I'm not going to say that I decided to go to Iowa that day, because that's just not true. But for a guy that was looking for a sign to tell him which direction to go, I sometimes wonder if the seed was planted that day. On the drive back to Michigan, I'd decided that I wasn't going to move to Minneapolis. Shortly after that, I remembered that Iowa had a great writing program. The rest could be history...

Friday, November 12, 2004

Emptying the Jar

I’ve been “Saved!”

I feel a bit better about the “cultural divide” in the country after watching “Saved!” a couple of nights ago. It’s essentially “Heathers” set at a Christian school, with Mandy Moore as the great bitchy villainess. I’m sure some devoutly religious people could watch this and think their beliefs are being made fun of (and they probably are), but I think the movie astutely casts light on how religion can be used to push selfish agendas, fear, and intolerance. It also skewers the attempt to make religion more “hip” for the kids. (Martin Donovan’s “Pastor Skip” is hilarious when he tries to get his students “down with the G.O.D!”) It’s a smart movie.

“Saved!” might not really make you feel better about the wedge between the “religious right” and “secular left” that exists because the differences seem so tangible right now. But this will help you laugh about those divisions. And sometimes, I think that’s all you can do.

Jolt Gum?

Anyone still have nostalgia for Jolt cola? As if we weren't annoying and hyperactive enough back in junior high, we had a drink with "all the sugar, twice the caffeine." I remember when I told my dad about it after finishing my paper route and he asked, "Why would you want to drink that?" Such a buzzkill.

But because enough people fondly remember this speed in a can, Jolt is being brought back in gum, according to the New York Times. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially when you need a quick boost in the middle of the day and you can't bear to drink more coffee or Diet Coke. But getting caffeine in unconventional methods doesn't seem to be too popular. Is that Water Joe stuff still around?

"Saving Private Ryan" banned?

Didn't take too long to see what the next four years would be like. Several TV stations around the country cancelled ABC's showing of "Saving Private Ryan" last night - on Veteran's Day - because they were worried that the excessive violence might result in heavy fines from the FCC.

Seriously? First of all, Janet Jackson's boob is nowhere to be seen in the movie, so these measures seem a little drastic. But this is such a gutless decision. Would the FCC really risk the public relations disaster of fining a station (or an even bigger target, ABC) for showing "Saving Private Ryan" on Veteran's Day? And if the FCC president, Michael Powell, signed off on such a move, do you think his father Colin might have something to say about that?

Unbelievable. I'll have to watch some porn tonight just to cleanse my palette.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ramen noodles = gourmet food?

I can hear myself now: “"So I went to New York over the weekend, and had a bowl of Ramen noodles. Oh, and I stood in line for three hours for it, too! It was great!"”

I’'m glad to know that at least once a week, I’'m eating a popular national dish - prepared in my own kitchen! Ramen noodles don’t represent poverty, my friend! No, no - in Japan, people wait in line for hours for this stuff. And now, they’'re doing it in New York too, according to the New York Times.

"How much? You know, I can make this stuff at home for 25 cents!"”

Okay, enough “"wise-ass American"” from me. Actually, I would like to try one of these restaurants. It would be nice to know what a bowl of “"real"” Ramen soup, prepared with ingredients other than fried noodles and a foil packet of MSG powder, tastes like. What do “"fresh"” Ramen noodles taste like? What do they feel like in your mouth? With all the other ingredients - real broth, a boiled egg, a fish cake, some ginger, and seaweed - I’'m reminded of a gigantic bowl of soup I had once in Toronto'’s Chinatown. For breakfast.

Now, if I can just find a place that serves Spaghetti-O’s and Beefaroni...

What a difference a new hairstyle makes

Was that Julianna Margulies on “"Scrubs"” last night? 'Nurse Carol Hathaway'’ from "“ER”"? She looks like a completely different woman with her curls straightened out! Hubba hubba!

(And apparently, a phone number given on this week’'s episode - 916-CALL-TURK - is real, created by the show’s producers. If you try the number, you’ll get a cell phone and will either get a voice message or might actually talk to one of the show’s writers, directors, or actors. [I got the message when I tried.] Pretty cool gimmick.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Regrets? Here's one

Last night, I read that First Avenue, the legendary Minneapolis music venue, had to close its doors last week after filing for bankruptcy. I never did get to see a show there, which was something I always wanted to do. I almost moved to Minneapolis two years ago, which probably would've given me the opportunity. Even after deciding to move to Iowa, I was only a five-hour drive away. I'd often thought about making that drive to see Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Wilco, or Paul Westerberg, but ultimately talked myself out of it. Now I wish I'd have pushed myself a bit harder.

Some of my favorite musicians got their start at First Avenue, bands like Husker Du and The Replacements. Prince, too - he filmed "Purple Rain" at First Avenue. One of my favorite scenes in Wilco's documentary, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," takes place backstage at the club, as Jeff Tweedy attempts to explain to music writers exactly what his band's album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is all about.

The world seems less cool today without a place like First Avenue. But according to the article I read, maybe the death knell hasn't been sounded quite yet. I'm sure there's a tangle of lawsuits to fight through before the club could ever open again, and I have no idea if improvements need to be made to the building or anything like that, but if it's mostly a question of finances, I hope the musicians who gave First Avenue its place in rock music's history somehow manage to play a role in keeping it alive. And if it does re-open, I'll make damn sure to see a show there.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Over my election hangover

After all the angst over the election results, I needed to get the hell away from the TV and escape the world for a few hours. No drugs, though Iowa is a haven for crystal meth production. (Sudafed is a behind-the-counter drug in Iowa because of this. There's a future blog entry.) No, I caught a matinee showing of "Ray."

All I knew about Ray Charles was his music, which got me through many dark early mornings in my bakery manager days. 'Night Time is the Right Time' is one of my favorite songs ever. (Now I know why Margie Hendricks sounded so angry when she yelled "BABY!" during the song's chorus.) As it should, the movie focuses largely on the music, portraying Charles innovatively combining gospel with R&B; a choice that wasn't popular with all African-Americans of the time. When he had a song that called for something bigger, such as "Georgia on My Mind," he brought in an orchestra. (The recording is a goose-bump-inducing scene in the film.) And by the 70s, when he wanted to acknowledge his country musical roots, he made a country album, despite the protestations of his record label. It's a great story.

Charles was more of an icon to me than a person, so I was eager to learn something about the man. I've read a few reviews that criticize "Ray" for making its subject out to be a hero, but I thought plenty of Charles's flaws were presented on screen. His infidelity, his heroin addiction, and his cold approach to business that alienated friends and mentors were all part of the story. (Maybe if more of his mistresses had been shown, these critics would've been satisfied.)

And I don'’t know if Jamie Foxx should win the Best Actor Oscar, but he's definitely in the conversation. I would think a nomination is a lock. (And he should get a supporting nod for "Collateral" too.) This guy used to dress like a woman on "In Living Color," and now he might be the A-list black actor. I want his agent.

Since I was already at the theater, I couldn't resist sneaking into "The Incredibles." Too many kids in the room for my liking, but I sat in the back, above the fray, so they didn’'t annoy me too much. (Quick parenting thought: if I shelled out $40 to take my family to the movies, and my brats were wandering the aisles on an ADD trip instead of watching the screen, I'd be pissed.)

I figured I'd enjoy this one, though, since my love of comic books put me squarely in the target audience. But I was happy to see "The Incredibles" raise the bar for superhero movies past the level previously set by the Spider-Man and X-Men flicks. (And the bar should've been raised higher because so much more can be done in animation than live action.) It celebrated and tweaked the conventions of the genre (costumes, secret identities, arch-villains, etc.), but also created some memorable characters. I actually enjoyed the quieter stuff more than the giant action sequences, though animating a husband and wife arguing almost seems like a waste of the technology. The storytelling took its time with adult concerns like being stuck in a job you hate and living an unfulfilling life. This probably drove the kids crazy, but made things more interesting to the adults.

Another nice touch was the voice talent serving the characters rather than draw attention to a celebrity doing cartoons. Rather than build a character around, say, Will Smith, the filmmakers picked voices that fit their creations. Sarah Vowell, for instance, isn't even an actor; she's a writer. But her odd, nasal voice was perfect for the shy, awkward daughter.

Traditional 2-D animation's apparent death makes me sad (though I know it'll make a comeback) but if the Pixar continues to create fluid characters with exaggerated, "cartoonish" features, rather than the creepy, plastic mannequins seen in the "Shrek" flicks (and the upcoming "The Polar Express"), then maybe I'll get over it.

(Added bonus to "The Incredibles"? The "Star Wars: Episode III" trailer. I'm such a sucker. As soon as I saw the Lucasfilm logo, I became the wide-eyed kid again. This could be as loud, soulless, and stilted as the other "Star Wars" prequels, but I have hope since we'll see Darth Vader. To me, this has been the only reason to see these new films in the first place: seeing how one of the great villains of my lifetime came to be. My fingers are crossed.)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

What's the hold-up?

Not that it matters, since I'm watching George W. Bush on TV right now talk about his next four years in office. (And he's being so funny about the fact that he's 'reaching out' to the White House press corps. How about some more press conferences in the next four years, Mr. President? 'I'm going to start enforcing the one-question rule.' Ha ha ha. You know, I think I could have a beer with this guy.)

But isn't it embarrassing that Iowa still hasn't made its vote totals official? The place that got the 2004 election ball rolling now won't let it go. It's the only state that's still gray on the electoral map. What's the hold-up? According to the Des Moines Register, the totals probably won't be available until Monday, after some 15,000 provisional ballots and as many as 50,000 absentee ballots are added to the final tally. Bush's victory in Iowa, however (the first for a Republican in 20 years), seems assured.

Iowa's interesting in that you could probably draw a line right down the middle of the state, through Des Moines, and put Republicans on the west side and Democrats on the east. I'm not sure another state has such an obvious schism in its political sensibilities.

The 2008 Iowa caucuses (if they remain first in the nation) should be damn interesting...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Continental Divide

I don't want to engage in melodramatic "end-of-the-world, I’m-moving-to-Canada" talk, but I'm troubled by the sharp cultural divide in this country. Maybe it was naive of me not to realize how wide the gap was, but if you look at the electoral map, the gap is as wide as that giant conglomeration of "red states" in the middle of the country.

I'm just surprised and, of course, disappointed. I thought we lived in a different country. But apparently, I'm out of touch with the so-called 'moral issues' (abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, etc.) that are important to people. Just like the blue states on that map, my beliefs and principles are apparently on the outside edges.

It's disconcerting to me that 11 states, including my home state of Michigan, supported amendments to ban gay marriage. I probably shouldn't be surprised, but I didn't think the result would be so resounding. I hoped we were more progressive in this country. I should've known better. Now we're legislating discrimination.

Bush has won the popular vote. And Republicans won (or maintained) control of the House and Senate. What is this administration going to do, now that they don't have to worry about pleasing people for re-election purposes? I'm extremely skeptical that Bush will try to "unite the country" and “end partisan bickering,” rather than impose an agenda. I hope I'm wrong. But from the minority edges of the current continental divide, it's looking cold and lonely.

I hate to sound like a sore loser, but I can't believe that the majority of people are apparently happy with the state of the country, that they think Bush deserves to turn things (terrorism, national security, the war in Iraq, the economy, health care) in the right direction. Maybe they just didn't like or trust Kerry. It's baffling to me. I guess I'll have to spend the next four years attempting to understand this.

But those who want change in this country have to start acting right now. Democrats can't take another three years to figure out what our message and ideological stand is, as they did during most of the last three years. We have to keep the pressure on Bush and the Republicans from the outset and not let up until 2008. And we have to rally behind a candidate early in the process, whether it's John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, or the past two runners-up, Kerry and Gore. We can't waste time figuring out who we are, as we did with nine (??) candidates throughout most of last year.

All those youth voters who embraced apathy again this year and didn't go to the polls? I hope you're there in four years, after you realize the opportunity you squandered. Maybe you can convince the next wave of 18-24 year olds to help out, too.

And those who believe in a third party alternative to the current system? Do something over the next four years to organize – whether it's with the Green, Reform, Libertarian, or some other party that hasn't yet been created - and become a viable voice, instead of just waiting until Ralph Nader pops up again and support him when he did nothing himself until it was time to run for president again.

You know, I didn't want this to be a political blog, dammit...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Spending the night with Chris Matthews...

I'm wondering if I made the right decision to sit in front of the TV tonight and watch election coverage. Even with the very early results from four states, I can feel my stomach swirling and dipping from the news. Maybe this is a good night to catch a movie, ignore the TV, and find out what happens in the morning. But I know I won't be able to resist.

No matter what happens, there is one thing I would like to see change. Today on campus, I saw a girl wearing an "I ♥ Bush" t-shirt and the blood just boiled to my head. In the past, I probably would've felt at least an ounce of admiration toward this person for believing in her opinion strongly enough to wear it on her chest. On a college campus, she probably knew she was going to have some verbal tomatoes thrown her way. But today, I instantly judged her and wanted to scream at her. And I hate that I feel that way.

Even if Bush wins this thing, I hope I'm mature enough to move past it (eventually - give me a week, okay?) and let go of the negative feelings I hold right now toward anyone who believes in a candidate different from the one I support. I'm tired of feeling the way I felt today, as I've felt for much of the past four years.

As a comic strip by James Kochalka said today, "I guess we can relax. Bush won't be president much longer now. Four more years, TOPS."

Having said all that, I'll miss all the political action here in Iowa. It's been so fun to experience the caucuses and national election here, with all of the candidates breezing through, holding rallies, and meeting people. Presidential politics has never seemed more personal and more vital to me than it has over the past year-and-a-half.

Monday, November 01, 2004

You have to wear a costume!

Can you complain about what you get in your trick-or-treat bag if you DON'T EVEN WEAR A COSTUME??

This is the punk-ass brat I was faced with last night, trying to be a nice guy because I felt bad about kids going door-to-door and no one giving 'em candy. I initially tried to avoid the trick-or-treaters by hiding in the bathroom whenever I heard knocking. But I had a paper to work on, so I wasn't going to stay in there for two hours. (If only I had mexican for lunch - HA!) So back to the computer I went. Never mind that I had the lights dimmed and stayed away from the windows. Apparently, I needed a "I have no candy, please stop knocking and go away" sign on my door.

Of course, I would've knocked on such a door when I was a kid too. And it was remembering lil' Ian that made me open the door and greet the kids. Unfortunately, I didn't have much. Here's a pack of gum, little ballerina. How about a handful of Jolly Ranchers for you, Mr. Samurai? And for you, Officer Riot Cop (did a parent think of that one?), here's some toffee candy a friend gave me as a gift. Happy Halloween! They were happy, I felt good - and I was done for the night.

Except another batch of kids followed before I could close the door, go back to working on my paper, and yell "NO CANDY" whenever someone knocked. And these were the kids that had no costumes. They were just running around in plainclothes, with plastic Walmart bags open, looking for free candy. Is that the kind of effort that should be rewarded?

But after emptying my bags of Jolly Ranchers and toffee candies, all I'm left with is... granola bars. Hey, excuse me for wanting to up the health content for our children! I'd take a Nature Valley Oats & Honey bar most days over a Snickers! (Of course, I'm old and eat Grape Nuts for breakfast...) Hey, I know it's lame! So I toss granola bars in the last two kids' bags, which elicits an "Aw, man!" from one. The other one began to walk away, then stepped back and asked if he could get trade his granola bar for Jolly Ranchers instead.

How did I handle this?

"Kid, you don't even have a costume on. You don't get to trade. Happy Halloween!" And I shut the door. Hours later, I even finished that paper.

No eggs splattered against my window this morning...